Ex Rx: The Importance of Physical Activity Outside the Physical Therapy Clinic

Ryan Roenigk, SPT – Texas State University Doctorate of Physical Therapy Class of 2023

You likely are coming to Symmetry Physical Therapy for specific guidance on how to reduce pain and improve your overall function. Maybe you had a recent injury or surgery that brought you through our doors. It’s also very common that you have been dealing with chronic pain that seems to have lasted for months or even years. At Symmetry we try to maximize the way your body moves with the goal for you to resume the activities you enjoy.

But what about when you leave our building? You will typically have been given a home exercise program with specific instructions regarding sets and repetitions that will make it easier to incorporate our advice into your daily routine. We are extremely happy when you are able to be consistent with your home exercise program.  Accomplishing activity prescribed in physical therapy is one aspect of care that contributes to overall health and wellness. Something else to consider that will contribute to the ongoing success of PT treatment is the importance of general physical activity and exercise.

Regular physical activity is an extremely important aspect of a holistic approach toward a healthy and fulfilling life. But where do you start if you’re not accustomed to moving a lot? How much is enough? How long should one exercise? All these questions start emerging and it can be overwhelming. Some of you might doubt your ability to even start exercising. Let me reassure you, it’s never too late to start adding physical activity into your daily routine!

Being active will help you feel better, move better, and sleep better. It’s never too late to start. Strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility can all be improved into one’s ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and beyond. Let’s take look at some of the benefits of regular physical activity.

Regular physical activity:

  • Helps you stay independent.
  • Reduces your risk of falling or having a fall-related injury.
  • Keeps your brain healthy by reducing your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. It also helps to improve your cognitive processing.
  • Lowers your risk of developing chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease and reduces the likelihood that current chronic conditions worsen.
  • Reduces the risk of cancer and helps to prevent cancer in remission from coming back.

What does physical activity look like?

  • Physical activity doesn’t have to be complicated! Sit less and move around more. Walk to the mailbox. Walk the dog. Dance in the kitchen. Take the stairs. Find opportunities throughout your day to get moving. It all adds up!
  • Try being active with a friend! Find an exercise buddy and get active together. Your partner could be a family member, neighbor, or friend. You’ll keep each other accountable.
  • Worried about your health? Talk with your healthcare provider before beginning a new activity routine. Are you having muscle or joint problems? Ask your physical therapist. You’ll learn specific exercises to utilize to strengthen and protect troubled areas.
  • Find your fun! Try to choose activities that you enjoy, because you’ll be more likely to stick with them. Go easy at first and work up in intensity gradually. Try different things – walking, gardening, pickle ball, yoga, etc. Everything helps in different ways!

How much physical activity is recommended? The following are some practical guidelines:

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity improves stamina and heart health. An activity is aerobic when your heart rate and breathing get faster.

What is aerobic activity? Any rhythmic, continuous activity

How often is aerobic activity recommended? 3-5 days/week

How intense should the activity be? Fairly light to somewhat hard

How much is enough? Start with a few minutes. Gradually build up to 30-60 minutes over the course of a day.  This can be done all at once, or in several segments. Build up to doing 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes/week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.2

Walking, biking, dancing, and water exercises are all great. How about active yard work or house chores? Fit in 5 or 10 minutes here and there. Or go for 20-30 minutes. Be active however and wherever you can. Every minute adds up.

Strength Training

Strength training – working with weights or resistance bands, for example – makes
you stronger and helps improve your overall health. Strength training can make daily
activities like lifting laundry baskets or doing yardwork easier and safer.

What is strength training? Exercise using resistance, such as from hand weights, elastic bands, weight machines, or the load of your own body (for example, wall push-ups or chair sit-to-stands)

How often is strength training recommended? 2 or more days/week. Incorporate a rest day in between.

How intense should the activity be? Start with light effort. Build up to medium or hard effort.

How much is enough? 10-15 repetitions at moderate effort for each major muscle group is a good place to start. Build up to 8-12 reps of challenging effort. Repeat 1-3 sets of each activity in any given ex session.

Avoid straining or holding your breath when lifting. If you need some assistance maintaining good form without holding your breath, seek help from your physical therapist. They can teach you the correct way to do exercises and how to breathe properly.

Other Types of Physical Activity

Balance: Improves your ability to resist forces that could cause you to fall. Balance training also lowers your risk of injury if a fall does happen. Simply getting stronger will help too, especially in your legs, stomach, and back. Train in an uncluttered area and use a chair or wall for support if needed. A physical therapist can guide you safely through balance training.

Flexibility: Stretch your muscles 2 or more days/week to the point of feeling gentle tension. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds. For example, stretch your calves or the back of your thighs.

Range of motion: Gently move your joints through a full range of motion. Do 10 repetitions of
activities such as knee slides, wrist and shoulder circles periodically during times of sedentary activity, such as working at a desk or traveling by car or plane. Motion is lotion!

Combo activities: Do aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises all in one session. Try things like yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates to help with balance, flexibility, and strength!

Take more steps: Use a smartphone or activity tracker. Slowly build up to 2,000 more daily steps than you’re doing now. Good job! Then aim for at least 7,000-9,000 steps/day on a consistent basis.

Here are some final thoughts & tips: Start small with physical activity. Even a 5-minute walk has great health benefits. Remember that all sorts of activities that you do throughout the day count as ‘physical activity’. Even things that don’t feel like exercise can add up. You can get more active at any age. Talk to your physical therapist about what they think is a good place for you to start. Take your first step towards a healthier and happier life. Get a little more active each day. Get moving!


  1. Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA. 2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854
  2. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer; 2021.
  3. Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html. Published May 20, 2022.
  4. Physical Activity Guidelines Resources. https://www.acsm.org/education-resources/trending-topics-resources/physical-activity-guidelines